San Francisco's Attempt To Ban 28 Individuals from the Tenderloin
In September 2020, the City of San Francisco filed a series of lawsuits against 28 Bay Area residents. The City is seeking to use California’s public nuisance and Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”) to ban individuals from the Tenderloin District for allegedly engaging in street-level drug sales. The City, therefore, wants to create a second, civil track, that runs parallel to the existing criminal one.
People targeted by these injunctions can face arrest for merely walking down the street, riding public transport, visiting family members, or seeking any number of supportive services concentrated in the Tenderloin neighborhood.
The ACLU Foundation of Northern California, along with the firms of Swanson & McNamara and DLA Piper, is representing several of the defendants.
In February 2021, the San Francisco Superior Court denied our motion to strike the City’s request in its complaint for the broad, unconstitutional injunction that would ban our clients from the Tenderloin. Such banishment would impact their right to travel, associate, and engage in free speech, among other harms. The court also declined to grant our demurrer to the complaint, which identified the flawed merits of the City’s public nuisance and UCL claims.
In March 2021, the City filed for a preliminary injunction against the four defendants whose cases are active. We filed our opposition to this motion on April 12. The court heard the motion on May 4.
The overbroad and ineffective nature of the City’s proposed injunctions is highlighted by the fact that the City provides flimsy or no evidence that the defendants facing a preliminary injunction have been convicted of drug sales in the Tenderloin.
On May 19, 2021, the San Francisco Superior Court denied the City’s motion for a preliminary civil injunction excluded four of our clients from 50-square blocks in the Tenderloin abundant with services, businesses, and other opportunities that support marginalized communities. The Court denied the motion because the solution was overbroad—instead of targeting the alleged unlawful conduct, it would have targeted people’s mere presence in the neighborhood.
“As Judge Schulman recognized, the effort to exclude our clients from an entire neighborhood lacked precedent and would be an unconstitutional violation of our clients’ right to freedom of movement as well as lacking in any statutory authority,” said Annie Decker, staff attorney for the ACLU of Northern California. “We are grateful that the Court rejected the City’s massive overreach and its attempt to scapegoat four individuals for its own policy failures to address real needs in the Tenderloin. The City should instead work with the many community partners in the Tenderloin, including those who support our clients in this case, to find more effective solutions than what the City attempted here.”